14 January 2017
Dick. Here is a report of my trip to Guaruma, la Montaña de la Flor (MDLF), Francisco Morazon Honduras.
Our day started at 0300 hours on Wednesday morning. I was staying with Julio and his family in Quebracho about 10 minutes from Acote/San Francisco, just at the base of Montaña de la Flor. Julio and I had taken Franci and her mother Doña Gloria home on Tuesday after Franci’s exams and consults. Franci is doing fine and will be back in Tegucigalpa on 18 January 2017 for, hopefully, one of her final trips. Doña Gloria told me she has been traveling to Tegucigalpa for and with Franci for 14 years. Dick, you’ve been in Hospital Escuela so you know those issues. Franci will do well. She is very smart and loves to go to school. Obviously, she got some help for this next term.
We had light rain in Quebracho during the night and the morning was cool. Julio’s daughter Raquel and son Samuel would be with us. We took the shortest route to the main road going to MDLF. I’ve never thought it was the shortest. What I do know? It is very bumpy, and you have to do a tap dance through the river crossing to avoid the rocks. Julio likes this route. I’ve driven many times, and you have also been with me one of those times. Once through the obstacle course we stopped on the road to MDLF and waited for the president of Guaruma to join us. He lives just north of Acote. He rides his motorcycle to Monterrey at the beginning of each week; then walks to Guaruma to work his farm. He has corn and coffee. On Friday he returns to his home and family. Wow! I give him much credit after being in Guaruma.
It was a slow ride to La Ceiba (MDLF) in the dark. The rivers were high, but presented no problem for Julio and the Toyota. I let Julio drive there in the dark and weather because of his experience. We stopped briefly in La Ceiba and picked up 3 shovels, a pick ax, and Mr. Luis. Julio wanted to be prepared for any problems along the road going from La Ceiba to Monterrey. This is a new road (calling it a road might be a stretch) and it was raining, although not heavy. This road was carved out of the mountain to carry out the coffee. I have never been on that road, so it was a first. I will tell you it is not for the faint of heart. I have sent you a few videos of our trip on the road. Julio had the Toyota in 4x4 the whole way. The road was muddy and there were many almost 180 degree turns, which led only higher. Dick, you remember El Tigre Park. Those were the types of turns I'm talking about. Julio wanted to get to Monterrey by about 0700 hours so we could get some breakfast. Julio’s wife Chung (very indigenous) had prepared small hamburgers and other items for our breakfast during the trip. Eggs and coffee would be waiting for us at Julio’s ranch house in Monterrey. His house is the first house as you enter Monterrey from the road. The structure is clay and so forth. His sister runs the house, and his 2 sons and daughter-in-law live there and work the farm (They raise corn and coffee). Beans are hard to grow there because of all the rains.
Good breakfast, although I do not like to eat much if I will be walking. Our little group of 5 left Julio’s house at 0740 hours. I was hoping on a walk of about 1 ½ hours. Little did I know I would not make this time. We left in a light rain, fog and very muddy walking trails. No roads going that direction, only trails for horses, mules and the indigenous. I soon found out the shoes I was wearing were not suitable for hiking in this type of environment. Good for walking back in South Dakota, but….not good on these trails. I think the route we took originally was about 4 km’s, up and down, down and up, and so forth. Very muddy. Light rain with fog. Heavy vegetation. Going to Guaruma I slipped (that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it) about 6 times. For me going up is easier than going down, and with my shoes….often I would just walk in the mud and not even try to get around the mud. My clothes were dirty; I was tired and banged up! After I fell, Julio and the village president decided it was time to get a mule ride. One was available at a house we passed. Now, I have never been on a mule, I do not speak mule and do not understand them. But I was tired and accepted. I know the mule knew I knew nothing about riding him. The young indigenous leading him wasn’t much better. I did find out mules do not like mud, just like me, and would stray off the path into the bush. Luis did not get him corrected, and then I would talk to the mule in English, and boy was he confused. The turns were sharp between rocks and the elevated trail. The mule would try and turn, but with me on him he was slipping. He even fell, and I tried to get myself away. I was banged up again. I told Julio and the president I would walk, even if I kept falling. It was dangerous for the mule and me, since I am such an inexperienced rider. I hated riding on the mule going down. I was only on the mule for about 10 minutes.
Guaruma is at 1800 meters high in the middle of a jungle. I do not remember the population. Scattered homes. No electricity, no stores, or shops. A school with 36 kids attending. Even that sits on the top of a mountain. I marvel at the endurance of these people who live here and in places like this. You will walk in terrible conditions and sometimes for hours to get provisions. Those provisions are in La Ceiba on Saturday for trading day. I’ve been there many times.
After 2 hours and 10 minutes we arrived on the outskirts of the village. We were invited to have coffee at the house where many of the locals were present. I declined the coffee. It’s good, but will grow hair on your teeth. We then went to the school where we would have a small ceremony with the president and chiefs of the village.
MHL had done a water project in Guaruma before (about 5 or 6 years ago) but the presa collapsed. Then, the school did not have water. Carolyn Bickford’s family donated $$ for this new project, as a memorial to her late mother. The presa is now higher and the location of the tank has been changed. The tank is 2500 liters and has constant water flowing. They can close valves at the presa to control the water if needed. Julio was in charge of doing this project. He has worked with us so much he knows the drill. I give these guys (the village) credit for the work done. High, hard, rocks and jungle. I think the project took 25-30 days to complete.
I presented a plaque Carolyn had made to dedicate this project on behalf of her mother, Patricia Hendricks Willenbring. We had a presentation outside near the pila at the school. I filled my empty water bottle from the flowing water and drank half of it. I was that thirsty! Nice, simple presentation. The villagers are very thankful for this project and all the help from Mission Honduras LeMars. They cited the water projects, food, medicines, notebooks, clothes and 2 computers. Since they have no electricity, the computers are being used in a village school that does. The president said the mayor of the area provides no help….Only Mission Honduras LeMars. They were really thankful. I told them we will continue to try and help as we can.
We then walked to the tank. Guess what? Up! Through more jungle. Some little kids had joined us by now. 2 of the women present at the ceremony remembered me and a doctor from the U.S. that had made a house call in Monterrey (2009) to help their very sick mother. She ultimately died. The doctor was David Goo from Emory University in Atlanta. They wondered if I could get them a picture of their mother. I told them if Dick and Carolyn have any (I’m sure they do because Goo was always taking photos) I will get them for them. Boy! How they looked when I said that to them. And, this is not the first time on this trip for a request like this. I have another story later about that.
Julio decided we should take a route back that did not have so much mud. I was in agreement, but little did I know what this route would bring. Very high and still muddy, but maybe not so much. The terrain was worse in my mind, however. Up, Up and Up. Around rocks, tree roots, elevated terrain from washout near the trees. Sometime you had to step about 2 or 2 ½ feet up to get to another point. I had to take many breaks. I was simply exhausted. Generally my body hurt, and I mean hurt. I also remember women coming to a medical clinic. When you would ask them their problem in triage, they would say total body pain. I can now relate.
I tell you, it was a long walk back. I slipped again soon on the walk back, and Luis (one of the indigenous) let me wear his rubber boats while he wore my shoes. His boots leaked, but I did not care. I did not fall again. I really misjudged the terrain and walk. I have walked from La Ceiba (1100 meters high) to Monterrey (1500 meters high) 3 different times, but on dry trails. This was really different. It took me over 3 hours to return, but I returned. The sun tried to come out, but not for long. Back to rain. We had to leave because of the road. When it is really wet, it is extremely dangerous up there. Julio is a very skilled driver in these conditions and on those roads.
We arrived back in Quebracho about 1830 after a really long hard day. But, was it worth it! Thanks to all for giving me this opportunity. I know I fell, and I looked like I had been in a mud wrestling contest, but such is life. Guaruma really appreciated my being present. I will always respect these types of people for the harsh life they live. This is so true in so many parts of the world.
Dick, I will send you photos and videos of the trip. Thanks again, Carolyn and your family, for the help they provided to this small group of people.